The end of 2018 saw a change in JCA leadership as Executive Director Myron Flagler retired from the agency after over 20 years of service, and new JCA CEO Adam Chaskin took over on January 1, 2019. Through this change, it has been a year of notable highlights and exciting programming at the agency.
The annual Discover Culture Literary, Film and Arts Festival, 22nd Annual JCA Jewish Book Festival and Jacksonville Film Festival brought Jewish-themed authors, films and cultural arts programming to the community, opening with Emmy Award winner Martin Fletcher who presented his novel, Promised Land. Israeli Defense Forces soldier Izzy Ezagui’s memoir, Disarmed, told a powerful story of overcoming adversity. Marilyn Simon Rothstein’s comedic look at marriage, Husbands and Other Sharp Objects, and psychiatrist Marc E. Agronin’s dynamic, positive view of aging, The End of Old Age, brought a diverse group of literary voices to the festival. The event also included a book club with bestselling author Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, a cabaret presented by the JCA Theatre department, film showings and a family concert. Nearly 1,000 guests came to the nine-day festival, which was free and open to the community thanks to the support of generous sponsors.
This year’s annual JCA Fundraiser, Let’s Rock, brought guests out for an evening of rock and roll in support of the agency. In January, we introduced the Myron Flagler Israel Learning Seminar Endowment, which seeks to instill Jewish and Israel literacy in those who work for Jewish organizations in Jacksonville. Flagler, now in the role of agency consultant, was also awarded the prestigious OneJax Humanitarian Award for his work in the community. At the 2019 JCCA Professional Conference, we received a Kol HaKavod Program Excellence Award in Visionary Management for our Relationship-based Membership Model. Michele Block Gan Yeladim launched the Educator Support Network for Duval County school teachers, following the Annual Early Childhood Education Conference, which involved a year of guided study with keynote speaker and Conscious Discipline certified instructor Nicole Mercer.
Jewish and Family Programs brought the community together to celebrate Jewish tradition and customs in a fun, inclusive environment. Our annual Pizza in the Hut Sukkot Party taught the history of the holiday during a festive, pizza meal. Chanukkah had dozens of JCA families and members joining the lighting of our giant, outdoor chanukiyah along with blessings, songs and crafts. For Yom Ha’atzmaut, we partnered with the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville and all of the city’s other Jewish organizations to host a community-wide celebration, which featured an exhibit by community shlicha Rotem Gabay, called 100 faces of Jewish Jacksonville, that showcased portraits of community members ages 0-100.
The J Institute brought enrichment to the community through education, wellness and social programming that engaged adults of all ages and interests. The Discover Israel Series included Israeli films and topical discussions. Young Concert Artists Series welcomed violinist SooBeen Lee, pianist Nathan Lee and cellist Zlatomir Fung for free, community concerts. Harry Frisch gave insight into his success in his book, Use Your Head. Jamie Bernstein, daughter of famed composer Leonard Bernstein, visited the J to present her book, Famous Father Girl, and the Sunday Film Series, painting, pottery and Vandroff Art Gallery provided seasonal arts offerings.
Michele Block Gan Yeladim gave our youngest friends a safe, nurturing environment to learn and thrive with programs like Torah Tales, Cooking Around the World and JPLAY Havdallah. Students cared for a clutch of ducklings, grew and ate organic vegetables in their garden, made misloach manot for Purim and enjoyed a retelling of the Exodus from Egypt in a Mock Passover Seder. Ongoing Parent and Me classes let parents and children play, swim, workout and spend quality time.
Fitness and Wellness inspired personal enrichment within the entire community. For the Heart Healthy Fitness Challenge, members and staff completed 100 miles each in honor of Heart Health Month. The second annual Omer Burpee Challenge encouraged followers to share their daily burpees on the JCA Fitness and Wellness Facebook group page. The department also introduced new classes, including Belly Dancing, Advanced Yoga and Walk-to-Run. Wellness Connexion offered free community programs that touched on a variety of important health and wellness issues like mental health first aid, stroke awareness, cancer wellness, meditation, Crohn’s and colitis and heart health.
Theatre’s Magic Wardrobe brought educational theatre to thousands of students from Duval County with messages of tolerance, honesty and kindness. Theatre of Youth put on productions of Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland starring our talented, young actors.
Youth Services provided a safe, stimulating after school environment for children with arts, STEM and other enrichment options. JCA accredited summer camps brought fun to the summer months. Sports and Recreation kept youth and adults active with record participation in basketball, flag football and soccer leagues. Aquatics brought safe, swim practices to those of all ages and abilities with 2,277 Learn-to-Swim and private lessons and the new Sensory Safe Swimmers program for learners on the autism spectrum. Tennis participants stayed on the courts year-round and came out on top with a win by the Working Women’s Team in the league championship.
This is just a fraction of the wonderful programming and accomplishments from a year filled with growth and change. And through it all, the JCA vision stayed the same, to provide the place in the tradition of our heritage where all people come together throughout their lives to enhance body, mind and spirit in an environment of fun, harmony and friendship.